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In the Society for Music Analysis' 2015 Newsletter just published, there is a letter from Ian Pace challenging Jonathan Cross' rosy view of the status quo of analysis within musicology today which Cross gave in a recent colloquium in honor of Arnold Whittall's 80th birthday. Ian reflects my own views, which will shock no one, but he carries significantly more weight as an academic insider making him more difficult to igore. I'm wondering if this forum might take up his challenge here with a public debate of the issues he raises. Following is a lengthy quote, but his entire letter (pp.27-8) as well as a summary of Jonathan Cross' comments (pp.21-23) will give the full cotext.
I have always thought of music, at a tertiary level, as a highly skilled discipline for those who have already developed and refined musicianship prior to entering university. This belief may reflect a background in a specialist music school in which, if nothing else, the teaching of fundamental musical skills was rigorous and thorough. Nonetheless, the importance of not allowing music slip to become a ‘soft’ subject requiring only nominal prior skills (and, as with much work in the realm of cultural studies, not requiring any particular artistic disciplinary expertise or extended knowledge) is to me self-evident. But with declining primary and secondary musical educational provision, frequently the extent of such prior skills amongst students can be quite elementary.
... [H]igher education has become a more ruthlessly competitive market with institutions fighting to attract and keep students. This is the context from which we should view the growth in many departments of types of popular music studies, film music studies, cultural studies, and some varieties of ethnomusicology, in which engagement with sounding music is a secondary or even non-existent concern. Such focus enables the production of modules which can be undertaken by those students with limited prior skills, but mitigates against musical analysis in particular.
We now have a situation, unthinkable a few decades ago, where some senior academics— even at professorial level—have no ability to read any type of musical notation. These academics (not to mention some of their students who will go on to teach at primary and secondary levels) may only perpetuate and exacerbate this situation for their own students. ... Expansion of musical study to encompass wider ranges of music and disciplinary approaches is certainly to be welcomed when this entails the cultivation of equal degrees of expertise and methodological refinement and critical acumen, but not necessarily when these are simply a means for attracting and holding onto less able students.
In short, these developments in musical higher education have seen a well-meaning liberal quest for inclusivity amount in practice to a pseudo- egalitarian de-skilling of a profession.
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